Kolkata: While the buzz was all about Pakistan's resurgence and India's slip from their perch as tournament 'favourites', and the pressure this contrasting build-up would bring upon the hosts, Saturday night's Super 10 match at the Eden Gardens may well have revealed that it was Shahid Afridi & Co who were still mired in the underdog mentality.
Shoaib Malik. Pic/AFP
India went in with the same XI that dangerously dented their prospects in Nagpur's Jamatha Stadium, thus backing their batsmen and consigning the 47-run loss to New Zealand as a rare bad day in office. Pakistan chose to replace young spinner Imad Wasim with seasoned seamer Mohammad Sami.
Misreading the wicket
The decision came not just from misreading of a spin-friendly wicket but was also a defensive move as Pakistan sought refuge in experience at the expense of balance in the attack.
The 35-year-old pacer, coming back after an injury layoff, picked up Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina in his first over, the batsmen aiding their own downfalls, but he hardly looked the bowler who would influence the outcome of the match. He was given just two overs, while 27-year-old Imad would have wondered what he was doing in the dressing room.
The gamble failed as Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh dragged India out of an uneasy position to set the stage for a cruise to a modest target of 119. Kohli's class and quick reading of situations stood out during his unbeaten knock of 55, which went from a cautious cajoling of the ball to a finishing flurry in the company of MS Dhoni. He added 61 at over eight-an-over with Yuvraj and another 35 in quick time with his skipper as India won with 13 balls to spare.
All-rounder Shoaib Malik stressed that the team management didn't read the wicket well. "We were not really expecting this kind of pitch. We expected it to behave the way it did against Bangladesh. Compared it to the last wicket and it didn't see any different. In fact, it seemed a better wicket than that. We did not expect so much of spin on this wicket," the 34-year-old said.
Afridi fails at No 3
Earlier, Pakistan's gamble of promoting Afridi to No 3 failed too. Afridi had play a typically aggressive innings of 49 against Bangladesh, but Saturday's move looked foolhardy in the availability of an in-form and more composed Mohammad Hafeez. He could have handled the spinners much better but, instead, got to play just five deliveries as the No 7.
The Nagpur nightmare did flash as Rohit Sharma, again giving two hoots to conditions and circumstances, fell to an expansive stroke, and the wickets of Dhawan and Raina ushered in uncertainty. It was left to Kohli to set the right tenor to the chase. The match was probably a manifestation of the ambience in the two dressing room — one filled with calm confidence and the other with clutter and confusion.